A boost for gender research

2014-10-17 08:17

Gender research is central to the development of knowledge about how a gender-equal society can be achieved. The point is made by Sweden's new minister for research, Helene Hellmark Knutsson. She wants to strengthen gender research by securing gender competence in assessment of research.

According to Hellmark Knutsson, the government has now started the work to ensure a gender perspective in all policy areas. Gender issues and gender equality are high on the Swedish government’s agenda, she says, but stresses that they must be addressed separately. The work with gender equality in academia is one thing, reinforcement of gender research another.

‘We want to stress that both topics are important. The knowledge that comes from gender research is important to this government,’ says Hellmark Knutsson.

In the recent government statement, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced that the Swedish ministries and other authorities will be given a clearer gender mainstreaming directive. The higher education institutions are among the country’s last public actors that have not received special instructions to gender mainstream their operations. Hellmark Knutsson sees it as important to communicate with the universities and university colleges about how such efforts can be designed.

In previous interviews, Hellmark Knutsson has said that the Social Democrats want to implement a bonus system to encourage recruitment of female professors. She declines to mention the amounts of money involved, but stresses that the work will be broad-based. She also talks about allocating funding to achieve good employment conditions in higher education and sustainability in research:

‘We also need to quality-assure recruitment processes and grants and we need to ensure that the work is carried out based on formal structures.’

Wants to strengthen interdisciplinary research

Gender research has received less attention in Swedish research policy in recent years. When asked what the reason for this may be, Hellmark Knutsson says that the ambition to introduce the gender perspective everywhere may have something to do with it.

‘The risk of this is that the gender perspective disappears or loses funding,’ says Hellmark Knutsson.

The Swedish Research Council’s interdisciplinary expert committee on gender is one example of how the work with gender issues has changed. The committee was dissolved last year and instead it was decided that a special evaluation panel for gender studies be established within the scientific field of humanities and social science. For gender researchers in other disciplines, such as in the natural sciences, this may be problematic. How can gender research be promoted also outside the field of humanities and social science?

‘We’re going to look at how the Swedish Research Council has worked with these issues. It’s important that we establish interdisciplinary research environments. Gender research is needed in many areas and we can’t let it be stopped short just because of a lack of gender competence in assessing applications.’

Requesting gender competence in reviews and planning

In contrast to Sweden, the EU has, within the framework of Horizon 2020, demanded that the gender perspective be included in research. Both gender in research content and gender equality in research environments are regulated. Some calls for grant applications will include a gender perspective requirement, whereas in others a gender perspective will be encouraged and will increase the chances for funding.

‘We don’t want to fall behind the international development. Instead we want to lead the way in this field,’ says Hellmark Knutsson.

One possible route, she says, may be to ensure gender competence in strategic reviews and planning of research. The government’s advisory board for research policy, which consists of representatives from different parts of the research community and business and industry, may be a good forum for this. The board has an important role in the development of the government’s new research bill that will be presented in 2016. Does this mean that we can expect a boost for Swedish gender research in the years to come?

‘Yes, I really hope so. We are a feminist government, which means that all issues related to gender equality and gendered power structures are important. Gender research is central to the building of necessary knowledge,’ Hellmark Knutsson concludes.

Author Ulrika Helldén
Source Translation: Debbie Axlid
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